Every morning, like a silent, stolid army, the fisherman families and slum residents living on the beach come down to the breakers to take their morning toilet run. A trove of squatters spots the landscape, some relieving themselves quickly and rushing off to work, some taking their time, staring out at the horizon like it’s a good bathroom reader. As I run along I dodge as many turd piles as trash pieces. It’s one way to get a rough gauge for the amount of diarrhea in the community.
I noticed this morning that while seemingly all the men and most of the children (male and female) participate unashamedly in this ritual, the women are entirely absent. Where do they do their business in the morning? How do they get rid of it? And more importantly, if there’s a way for them to use the toilet without using the ocean turning the beach into what is surely every public health professional’s nightmare, why couldn’t the men and children do the same?
The much-acclaimed World Toilet Organization is tackling some of these issues. It sees the “toilet taboo” as one of the biggest barriers to improving sanitation, and seeks to popularize the work of building and maintaining toilets for the 2.5bn people it estimates lack them, through such kitchy marketing campaigns as World Toilet Day and The Big Squat. There’s also the World Toilet College for toilet design and maintenance capacity development, and the annual World Toilet Summit & Expo. It seems to be working – they’ve gotten a ton of press and a number of avid followers – but these things take time.
Without much knowledge of the subject, my guess is that the biggest issue is the social one – convincing people that they need toilets, that open defecation is unsanitary and will lead to disease. Is there some opportunity here in the disparity between women’s and men’s pooping routines? I guess it depends on where the women really go, and whether their methods are any more sanitary than the beach. Until then my neighboring slums will continue to use the ocean as their toilet-cum-garbage can, and I will continue to dodge the turds.